And Then There Was One: Talking with Spring Awakening's Blake Bashoff
The national tour of the Broadway smash-hit Spring Awakening came roaring into Toronto March 17th at the Canon Theatre, as part of Mirvish's current season. The 2007 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, Spring Awakening tells the story of a group of adolescents in 19th century Germany who are struggling with coming of age in an oppressive society.
It's a unique musical experience, one that touches on all sorts of issues that you wouldn't normally expect to come across on stage. Everything from pre-marital sex, abortion, rape and suicide, the material is heavy but handled remarkably well by a young and extremely talented cast.
At the heart of the show is a character named Moritz Stiefel, a young man struggling to come to terms with his awakening sexuality while also dealing with a difficult family and the demands of school and life in general. Your heart feels for the character and he brings you into the story and helps you really understand and feel the angst he is suffering. This is due to the fantastic portrayal by Blake Bashoff, who also played the role on Broadway after Tony Award Winner John Gallagher Jr. left the show. Mr. Bashoff brings great depth and maturity to the role, and has a fantastic voice. He was kind enough to sit down with BWW to answer a few questions about life on tour, as well as what he thinks of his first time performing in Toronto:
First of all I would like to welcome you to Toronto and say that I hope that you are enjoying your time here. How are you liking your visit so far?
It's great! It's an amazing city and a combination of all the best cities we have been to, I'm having a great time.
Is this your first time visiting Canada?
I was in and out to promote the tour as part of the upcoming Mirvish season, but that was just for a day for business. This is the first time I've been able to stay here.
After performing the role on Broadway, how does being in the touring production differ from the Broadway production?
The story is obviously still the same, but getting to work with new actors brings new challenges and energy and dynamics. It's a different cast so that changes things. One thing with touring versus the Broadway production is that the constantly changing cities helps keep things alive and the new audiences bring new responses.
One thing that seems to have really changed with the tour production is the size of the theatres you perform in. New York's Eugene O'Neill theatre held just over 1,000 people, whereas the Canon Theatre (the venue for the Toronto tour stop) holds over 2200. Have you found that there are any particular benefits or challenges to performing in larger houses?
Not entirely, a little bit, but the great thing is that we are a very intimate show and we find if we keep the show our show the audience comes to us. The on-stage seating helps with the intimacy and community. I haven't felt swallowed up in gigantic houses, it can be a bit more challenging but it reads well. The material is so great that it brings the audience in, even in larger venues.
Toronto is one of the longer engagements on the tour, do you enjoy being able to spend longer in the city?
Absolutely, although it would be a different response if I didn't like the city. I love getting to explore different districts and shops, and this is a great city with a lot to see. I also really liked LA because that is home for me and we spent a long time there, and San Francisco was great as well.
Have you found that the Canadian fans are much different from those you met either on Broadway or on other stops on the tour?
Not significantly different, they are very polite and a bit more reserved in their verbal responses. It is still a great audience and house but sometimes the responses just seem a little more polite although it seems like the audience is still enjoying the show. Maybe it's just a Canadian thing, but they seem less star-struck which might be the mentality but it's a good thing to show that respect for the artists and their work.
You have mentioned before that you really enjoy being able to explore the city and also museums in particular, have you had the opportunity to visit the Royal Ontario Museum or any other interesting sites since you have been in Toronto?
This coming Monday we have a museum day, we have tried earlier but our schedule is really grueling so organizing a function gets really hard if the tour manager doesn't put something together. Henry Stram (Mr. Stram plays the Adult Male in the production) is really into that type of thing so he has some stuff organized for Monday. Apparently there is also a shoe museum here so some people are interested in that, that should be interesting. I'm also looking forward to just seeing some of the other areas and things there are to explore like the Distillery and Kensington Market. We have even done some shopping on Queen St West which was fun.
For those who don't know, you spent two seasons as a recurring character on the TV show LOST. Do you find that you get a lot of recognition for that character from the fans of the show?
Absolutely. There is cross-over and I do get recognized from the show. I feel extremely lucky and blessed to be a part of it. And LOST is an international sensation and now Spring Awakening is becoming one in its own right which is really cool.
Do you still follow the show?
Absolutely, I'm hooked! It's a great show and the whole time-travel thing is really great. Plus it's fun to watch my friends.
You are the oldest of the youth members of the cast, do you find that the other cast members look to you for advice or encouragement?
In a way I often feel like the leader of the company which might just be due to my age and experience, but we are like a close family. I really don't mind having the big brother position at all. There is a lot of love and respect within the cast and I never feel like I have to babysit anyone.
Your career began in film and TV, did you always have a desire to be a stage actor?
Yes, I always loved theatre, growing up in PA I did some child acting in NYC, and my family would make nights out of going to the theatre and so I became smitten with musical theatre, and I'm having the time of my life.
Would you say there is any one role you would really like to play some day?
I really think my dream role is yet to be created, but there are lots of great inspiring roles right now. I can't really pick one in particular that I think I absolutely need to play, I think that is yet to come.
Are there any actors that you dream of one day being able to work with?
Absolutely, especially in film there are some fantastic people right now. The list is endless, Daniel Day-Lewis, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn. For female actors I would have to say Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep are acting goddesses. And all those people are really at the top of their game right now.
At the end of the day, what do you like to do while on tour to unwind with the rest of the cast?
Go for night dinners, or to the bars on your day off. The cast is a young cast but they are mostly all legal (especially in Canada) so we can go out and have a night out like adults. For example the other day it was snowing and so I just had a night in. Hung out with some of my close friends and rented some movies. We watched Hedwig and the Angry Inch and went out for a bit. Just a really chill night.
Finally, since you have been playing this character for some time now, how do you find you keep it fresh night after night and keep wowing the audiences?
With this material it's really alive, and there is a new response every night which means no two shows are alike. That helps. And the musical director really tries to get inside our bodies. Because of the audience responses and the newness of different cities I feel that I don't have to dig too deep to keep it fresh. Of course I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I was still discovering new things and being adventurous. Sometimes you swing and you miss, but sometimes, lightning strikes.
Spring Awakening plays at the Canon Theatre until April 19th. Tickets range from $25 to $99, and can be purchased online at www.mirvish.com or by calling 1.800.461.3333. A special number of student rush tickets are also available prior to each show. On-stage seating is also available by calling the box office directly or going in person to 244 Victoria St, Toronto, ON. For more information visit www.springawakening.com